I once watched a movie about a company junket. There were gift bags.
Nightly parties. Hook-ups and intrigues. Crepes for breakfast. Tray upon tray of fancy cheeses. It’s not a work scenario I can picture.
I wonder, sometimes, what people on the outside see. When they think
teacher, what does their think look like? Do they see a frumpy sweater? A
chalkboard? Do they picture me -- smartphone in my pocket, demonstrating tricky drafting tips on the smartboard to a room full of smart youth? Or do they picture that Mrs. Jones they remember from fourth grade—a small-eyed lady in polyester pants who carried stale cigarette smoke through the room like a grade-school perfume?
Do they see me at all?
Do they see my students?
Not just the one today, who stayed after to discuss project ideas. Not
just the class after lunch that got a little squirrelly near the bell. But the battalions of them from over the years. The thousands of individuals that have been my students.
Of course, the answer is no. I can’t even remember all their names. And
some of the names I do remember no longer match the faces my students have grown into.
But I know I took each of them seriously. I treated them with respect and expected the same in return. I taught each of them something they didn’t know just as I learned from them something I didn’t yet know. Over and over again, minute by minute, I made a thousand differences. But I don’t think that’s visible on the outside.
So I wonder, from the outside, how much is blurred, lost behind the
screen of being outside. Like a limb distorts beneath the skin of water. Like
glass reflects as much as it lets pass.
From the outside, one can’t see much of anything that relates
meaningfully to how things are on the inside.
Education. A word often dropped into a sentence like a burden.
Public Education. Even heavier.
It makes me angry. I am all about education, but education no longer
means what it once did. Not how it’s described in the media, in budget cuts and newspaper clips about Adequate Yearly Progress.
I’m not blaming anyone.
I do the same looking in as anyone else. I see it as a parent of a first-grader. What I know of elementary school is two teachers and the fact that my son is happy. It’s not much. Anecdotal evidence isn’t scientifically useful. But one can only draw conclusions from what one sees. So I conclude that my son’s school is great. That the teachers there are outstanding. And I assume, without reason, that everyone who works at his school is equally wonderful. From the crossing guards to the principal and including all the people I haven’t met in between. Because the happiness of my only son is all the proof I need.
I know it's foolish. It would be equally foolish for me to assume that because I work hard, and care about my students and do a good job, that every teacher everywhere in the country is doing the same. I’ve read the research. I know approximately 10% of the employees in any work force aren’t cut out for the job they’re doing. But I also experience the other 90%. The teachers, like myself, who do extra and push harder and work long hours for a few kids who I might not remember. The believers.
I don’t party every night. I’m not up on recent gossip. My school has never sent me on a junket. And though I’m a sucker for imposing cheese trays, I wish our society were better at finding meaning behind the names of things. Myself included. I wish I listened to words more often, instead of just hearing
them. I wish I had time for meaning, and maybe once that had time to sink in, for understanding-- a concept as elusive as public education.